Welcome to my home page. I became blind at birth. I started programming computers at a young age. I also earned my general class amateur radio license, KA3TTT, a hobby to which I have returned with great joy. I practice Qigong and identify as a Taoist. I use Linux as my desktop and Android as my mobile OS. I eat gluten-free vegan meals. For the rest you'll have to read my blog.

The Productive Macs Bundle with VoiceOver

May 20, 2011

Recently, LifeHacker featured the Productive Macs Bundle. This bundle promises eight great apps for a low price. I figured I’d test all eight for VoiceOver compatibility. If even a few worked it would make it worth the price. At the end, I found a split right down the middle. Four worked and four didn’t. I still consider it a worthwhile investment.

I will cover them in order. I remain open to corrections. I also hope the developers with incompatible programs will consider improving their accessibility. Here we go!

Textexpander:A lot of people love this program. As the name suggests, it expands short text strings into long ones. This helps save time when filling out forms, for example. Have your email and postal addresses as strings. It also has some substitutions for the time and date, and allows for filling in forms. I found this program completely accessible. Very nice.

Pathfinder: This finder replacement offers some cool sounding features. The unix utilities sounded good. It also has Command-X support to “cut” files. Why Finder doesn’t have this continues to elude me. Unfortunately, I had some real problems with this app. First, I tried it in list view mode. It wouldn’t read filenames, just blank. I switched it to column view which I often prefer, and could hear the filenames. Awesome I thought. Then I tried using it to delete a file from my Downloads folder. When I say delete here, I mean move it to the trash. I used Command-Delete as in Finder. Imagine my shock when my entire Downloads folder disappeared. Poof! Instead of removing the one file, it removed the whole folder. I freaked out, but fortunately Command-Z worked to undo the action. I tempted fate and tried a few variations, but to no avail. Too bad! I hope they fix this program. Given the company’s name of Cocoatech I hope they will.

Socialite: I so wanted this program to work. I really really really did. Facebook has become unusable, and I’d love having my Twitter and Facebook and all that crap all in one place. Alas, I just couldn’t get it working. Close, but no cigar! Entering my account info had a few wrinkles, the PIN for Twitter authorization for instance. I managed to get it though, but sadly none of my tweets would read. I just saw a vertical scroll bar with blank text. Nothing nothing nothing. So sad. I really hope they improve this one, as the blind would really find it valuable.

HoudahSpot:Perfect. When I first got my Mac, I disregarded the Spotlight search feature, figuring it worked about as well as the Windows search, not very and extremely slowly in other words. What a mistake! Spotlight rules! This program takes the Spotlight and offers more specific searching. It does this through easily navigable tables in scroll areas. It works well with VoiceOver. Quite cool.

Today: Oh boy. This program shows you a simplified view of your iCal events. I felt all ready to give this one my thumbs up, until I actually tried looking at an event. Firstly it has unlabeled buttons, which I tried to divine and label. In the course of this I chanced to pick a day with a scheduled event. Instead of seeing something meaningful, I saw an internal representation of the event, a serialized data structure in programming terms. This makes it unusable. Damn.

Blast:Oh dear, another one I would have enjoyed. Blast lets you quickly access recently accessed files from your menu bar. Unfortunately, I could not find where exactly this appeared. I looked in all the menu bars I could think of, but couldn’t find it. It would also bring up a window over top of an application, which would play havoc with VoiceOver. Perhaps I just didn’t look in the right place, or perhaps it just doesn’t work with VoiceOver, I don’t know. Perhaps someone can correct me on this one.

Keyboard Maestro: This program offers some of the same functionality as Textexpander and more. Whereas Textexpander does simple string substitution, Keyboard Maestro lets you define events triggered by hot keys, strings, program events, the time of day, and probably some others I forgot. With increased power comes increased complexity. I found a few minor issues with this program, for instance it requires some routing and simulated mouse clicks, but I managed to add a few macros once I learned to work around these issues. Also, unlike Textexpander, it has an engine which always runs and you only run the program when you need to edit macros. This means one less running program to deal with. It could use a little improvement on the accessibility front, but not bad. I sense some interesting potential with this program. For example, when I launch iTunes, I want it to play this clip from a recent South Park episode: “By clicking Agree, you are acknowledging that Apple may sew your mouth to the butthole of another iTunes user.” Perhaps this awesome program will let me. It can adjust iTunes in macros.

Mail Act On: This plugin for Mail.app (the default mail program for the Mac which totally decimates Outlook Express) adds some wonderful rule-related functionality. It lets you define mail filtering rules triggered by a hot key. It also lets you define outbox rules, allowing sorting of sent messages. How thoughtful. This just plug into the preferences, and works perfectly. Nice job!

So in conclusion, do I recommend the Mac Productivity Bundle for VoiceOver users? I would say yes. Four programs work, four don’t. Of the four that work, two do similar things. Average users will probably prefer Textexpander, and power users who don’t mind dealing with some little quirks will go for Keyboard Maestro. HoudahSpot offers some nice file tweaks, and Mail Act-On does the same for Mail. If this sounds good to you then go for it, but hurry, as the deal ends soon. You still end up saving money. I wanted to get this article out in time. I hope these reviews of the individual programs will come in handy even after this deal ends. Macs rule!

By the way, sighted users will not have these restrictions, and should feel free to try all the programs. They will most definitely find the bundle worth it.

Fixing a WaterDamaged iPhone with a Hairdryer

May 08, 2011

Today, we celebrated Mother’s day. As part of our dinner, Mom asked that I bring some tahini paste. I got a little on my finger, and when I went to send Mom a message I got a little on my iPhone. I powered it off and wiped it off with a slightly damp non-lint cloth (or paper towel in this case) as per the manual. I powered it on. Nothing. My heart stopped.

I quickly assumed that washing it had tripped the water damage sensor. A number of people have had issues with this, and sometimes unpredictably so. For example, my sister dropped her iPhone into the Atlantic Ocean. The iPhone had an Otterbox. She grabbed it out and it worked, somehow. A few days later, she had it out on her kitchen counter and splashed a little water on it, and the thing failed. I did not consider failure an option.

I knew I should keep it powered off to limit damage, but since it already had switched on I figured what the hell, I may as well gather some quick data. I knew it had switched on because I could hold an AM radio nearby and hear the interference. I then called my iPhone from my landline. To my shock, it rang, and I could hear the “Slide to unlock” message through the earpiece. Once the call ended however it went back to acting silent and broken.

I thought I had tempted fate long enough, so powered it down with the sleep/home combination, and called Apple. They told me that I could bring it in, but that the warrantee didn’t cover water damage, and I could spend $200 on a replacement, in other words a refurbished iPhone. This did not sit well with me, but I made an appointment for the next day just in case. The time had come for dinner, so I joined some of my family at Mom’s to eat the fateful falafel which killed my iPhone. We needed the tahini for the sauce.

I wanted to have fun with my family, especially since I sent Mom some roses, but I had already begun going into withdrawal. I couldn’t think about anything else but fixing my iPhone, so decided to bring my trusty MacBook Air along. Once there, I started searching around for tips. I found this article which tells how a poor girl who put her boyfriend’s iPhone through the wash avoided getting murdered. Basically, it recommends using a hairdryer on low, and if that doesn’t work submerging the iPhone in a bag of rice. I borrowed a hairdryer from Mom after dinner and started drying my poor iPhone. I used the cold setting so as not to further damage any components. After ten or so minutes I stopped drying and turned it on. I still heard nothing, except for the little bips made when using the volume buttons. This seemed hopeful, so I did a little more drying and thinking.

I wondered what would happen if I plugged in a pair of headphones, bypassing the speaker. Sure enough, I could hear VoiceOver, but without system sounds. I began to put the pieces together. The water damage sensor on the bottom had triggered, and the iPhone assumed that it should stop outputting through the speaker. Checking sound settings confirmed this, with the Ringer/Alerts volume now set to 0%. Nervously, I increased it, and gradually heard sound through the speaker. The system sounds also returned.

I thought I got it, but suddenly the sound stopped and my heart started racing. I turned the iPhone off again and did more drying. Time had past, and I wondered if I should continue this experiment at home. I told Mom that it just occurred to me that I don’t even own a hairdryer. She said that most guys don’t, and gave me a cheap one. I went home and did more drying and praying to Goddess. After a half hour or so I decided to try again. I turned it on with headphones, and raised the speaker volume. Success! I unplugged the headphones to see if all sounds would come through the speaker. Success! I kept it on and used it, sending several text messages, updating some apps, and some other routine things. It seemed to work.

But wait. I now had battery drain. I guess at some point things got reset, so I turned on screen curtain again and reduced the brightness. I figured that would fix it, but it didn’t. I watched over the next day with mounting concern and a mounting heart rate. Then, I read a tip to try a simple reboot and as often happens that solved the problem. Actually it went from 90% before the reboot, to 93% afterward, a good sign. Now it sits firmly at 92% and I feel good. Knock on wood. And thanks to my MacBook Air, I can actually knock on the real wood of my back deck’s railing. I feel happy that some good old hacker knowhow and a hairdryer saved me $200. Oh iPhone, I will never try to clean you again! Just kidding.

What Hath Goddess Wrought!

April 26, 2011

I have loved radios as long as I can remember. This caused me to become interested in amateur radio, which caused me to learn morse code. Recently, I thought of trying to use morse code as an alternative to typing on my iPhone’s on-screen keyboard. What a great idea. I love technology!

I remember my first encounter with an alarm clock radio probably around age one or so. I hit a few buttons and it made a loud squealing noise. I worried I had broken the radio and that Mommy and Daddy would get mad. Even though I felt scared, I realized that pushing the buttons caused the noise to happen, and that intrigued me.

A number of years later, my family went to the Franklin Institute. At the time, they had a radio room. It doesn’t live there anymore. The nice people enthusiastically showed me their setup, and explained how I could use ham radio to talk around the world. I heard the strange sounds and beeps and voices. I felt amazed. Remember that all this happened probably in 1982-1983, long before the internet became popular. Back then, amateur radio offered a way to do something most would consider impossible: to talk around the world for free. That really began my interest in electronics.

Around age ten, I started studying to get my amateur radio license. A year later I passed my novice exam, and got my call of KA3TTT, which I have to this day. I could never part with a call like that!

At the time, the novice exam required a five word per minute morse code exam. I passed it, but didn’t really know code that well. You can’t do much at that slow speed anyway. I got an HT, like a walkie-talkie for ham radio, and began chatting on local repeaters, communication relays. Unfortunately, I became involved with an elitist clique, since I didn’t know the difference between fake cool people and real cool people at that young age. One time, they berated my code ability, so I decided to buckle down, just to show them and prove my coolness. The next year I had passed my thirteen words per minute general exam and at the same time my twenty words per minute extra code exam. I also took the tech and general theory exams, making me a general class operator. I don’t even know what that translates to today. They’ve totally redone the licensing scheme and eliminated the code tests.

Back in 1991, I had a good grasp of code and used it often to talk with people around the world. After breaking through the barrier at around eight words per minute, the brain can start hearing whole letters instead of individual dots and dashes, and things rapidly improve. Code became something instinctive, impossible to forget. Sadly, the elitist radio club of which I spoke acted in a very nasty way to a friend of mine, and that turned us both off to amateur radio. Neither of us have gone on air since. Thanks, guys. Keep wondering why your hobby dies.

After that I decided to fully get into computers. I didn’t need to deal with a bunch of fevered egos tainting my subconscious, and the PC had started really taking off, so I dove in. That brings us up to last summer, when I got an iPhone. What a beautiful machine. If only it had something easier to type with than the on-screen keyboard.

Then a few days ago it hit me. Why not use morse code as a text input? This would allow one to write messages in code, then copy and paste them. It turns out a few apps exist to do just this. I will first cover a solution which requires jailbreaking, then two apps which do not. I should also say that it does take some practice, so don’t feel frustrated if you can’t get it right away, even if you know code. You will.

For the most integrated solution, you will need to jailbreak your phone. Once you do, you can purchase iDitDahText from Cydia. When installed, you will see an SPSettings toggle. Turn it on and you will see a two-paddle keyboard come up instead of the standard text keyboard. VoiceOver users will notice a weird fusion of the default keyboard and the morse code paddles. Don’t worry. Just disable VoiceOver and tap away. Along the top of the keyboard you will find a row of special keys. It works better to toggle VoiceOver to activate one of these, except for backspace which you can find easily enough. From left to right they go backspace, shift, refresh, space, and return. This solution works wonderfully, and it works everywhere.

If you do not want to jailbreak your phone, you still have a few options. Morse2Text by HotPaw Productions does what it promises. It has straight key and iambic modes. At first I used the straight key, but have since begun to love the iambic mode. I enjoyed using an iambic keyer in my ham radio days. It works exactly as I’d expect. Just write the message in code. You have to turn VoiceOver off first, so set up your triple-click home to do that if you haven’t. While writing, you can swipe in the text field above the keying pad to the left to erase a character and to the right to insert a space. I turned off the option to suppress spaces because it would mess with my head too much, knowing the rhythm. Still, some will like it. The app outputs its letters in lowercase, so after you write your message you can always go back and clean it up. By the way, the buttons don’t have proper labels yet, so the “email edit” button lets you do things to the text, such as clearing it or copying it to your clipboard. You can also edit it with the on-screen keyboard to clean it up right in the program. Wonderful.

Since I wrote this article, Morse-It has also become accessible with VoiceOver. It offers the same features as Morse2Text and more. It has some great features to help you learn code as well. I would like to thank the developer for taking an interest in accessibility. I also want to thank the people on the viPhone mailing list.

I really enjoy coding instead of texting. As said, it takes some practice. I still find myself editing and cleaning up, and admittedly at this initial stage it can take me longer to send the message than with typing, but I see that changing with practice. I just need to get back into the rhythm. It offers a much more efficient way to input text. What hath Goddess wrought! By the way, that parodies the first message sent by Samuel Morse over telegraph: What hath God wrought! It turns out this comes from the Bible, specifically Numbers 23:23. Since Discordians consider 23 a sacred number, surely this seems like a sign from Goddess Herself to further investigate this idea.

My trusty and dusty Kenwood TS440E sits on a table in an unused room. My Kenwood triband HT sits uncharged nearby just in case. It does also work as a scanner. I suppose I should get someone to put up an antenna for the HF rig. I suppose I should also invest in a new keyer, as my iambic keyer fell apart years ago. Still, I feel scared to go back on air, due to my past bad experiences. Whatever, I won’t worry about it. I can type with morse code on my iPhone! I even have the Echolink app on my iPhone in case I really do want to take the plunge. I probably won’t. Why bother? I’ll probably only start caring about amateur radio again when they start trying to regulate the internet and – oh wait! I guess I’d better get back on air.

Now that I think about it, I had a lot of fun with ham radio. I talked all over the country and the world. I heard lots of cool sounds and languages. I went to some great radio camps. It also got me in the habit of not using profanity while on air, guarding myself and watching the words coming out of my mouth. This has paid off when doing internet broadcasts. In a way I feel sad I got out of ham radio, but given what happened I do not regret my decision or my choices since. However, I think the time has come to bring things full circle. I have loved radios as long as I can remember.

The Quest for my iPad 2

March 24, 2011

I have it! I have my iPad 2. Getting it proved one of the strangest experiences in recent days. Listen if you will to my tale.

When Apple announced the iPad 2, I felt intrigued, and wondered if I should buy one despite owning an iPad 1. I read and thought and read some more, and eventually decided to. I wanted to experience the dual core processor, and wondered if it would boost VoiceOver performance. The iPad 1 always seemed a little clunky to me. The new design sounded interesting as well, and I wondered if it would have better feel appeal. Apple always does such a wonderful job with making things that feel cool to hold. I also felt very excited when I learned of the glass display. I figured I wouldn’t have a problem finding a new owner for my iPad 1, I still consider it a beautiful piece of machinery, but I wanted to move forward.

I read that Apple would make it available at 04:00 A.M. eastern time on March 10th. I knew they would sell out fast, but as it happened, one of my favorite radio shows called Over the Edge, would play then anyway, so I knew I could successfully pull this off. By 04:30 I had used my iPad 1 to purchase my iPad 2, with an estimated shipping speed of 3-5 business days. Perfect. The night owl gets the iPad! I enjoyed the show and went to bed. When I woke up, Japan had suffered the earthquake and the world had changed.

Around 01:00 in the afternoon I checked the Twittersphere to find that shipment dates on the iPad 2 had moved back to 3-4 weeks. I felt glad about my clever plan. I received the proper confirmation emails from Apple, and within a few days its journey had started from China. The situation in Japan had worsened and people wondered if this would effect the production of the iPad 2. I wondered if mine would become radioactive. I felt bad for those afflicted, but read a touching article which said that Apple stores had become rallying points, describing people flocked outside them just so they could get an internet connection. They also let people charge their iDevices, and I pictured iPhone users like myself frantically doing so. I wondered if any blind Japanese iPhone users charged theirs. With these thoughts I waited.

My order said I would get my iPad 2 by March 18th. They also shipped my smart cover in a separate package with the same arrival date. As the date drew closer I tracked the package and saw that the iPad would arrive on the 17th, St. Patrick’s day, with the cover still scheduled for the 18th. This made me feel great, and I even came up with a witty title for my article: Top of the iPad 2 ya!

I love St. Patrick’s day, even though I don’t have a drop of Irish blood in me. My friend Liz comes over and we listen to Irish music and live coverage on Live Ireland. I cook vegetarian stew and we have a good time. Neither of us drink. This year, I anticipated a special day indeed. Imagine my shock when my iPad didn’t show up.

I couldn’t believe it. I had tracked the package during the whole day. The package had gone out for delivery in the morning, and I sat in my recliner by the front door, anxiously awaiting the doorbell. Suddenly, it showed as delivered and signed for. My doorbell had not rung and I had not gotten it, let alone signed for it. I paced my porch and wondered.

I didn’t know what else to do, so continued my day’s plans. I started preparing vegetarian Guinness stew. As the name suggests it calls for a bottle of Guinness in the stew. Since I don’t drink I didn’t have any, and since you can’t buy alcohol in Swarthmore I couldn’t easily get any. Fortunately I got my mom to bring me some, which she picked up at Swarthmore Pizza. They technically reside in a neighboring town, so can serve alcohol. She also scanned my porch and confirmed that I had no package. With that knowledge and a bottle of Guinness I continued, unsure of what to think.

Liz came over, and we enjoyed the wonderful stew, which worked out perfectly. We even sent Live Ireland an email, and the two hosts, a vegetarian and a vegan, wanted the recipe. Very cool! Liz left with a bunch and gave me a cake she had spontaneously bought. I enjoyed the day immensely, but worried about my package.

The next day I waited outside in the pleasant almost nice afternoon with my MacBook Air. My other package with my smart cover still showed out for delivery, so I hoped that would come and I could snag the Fedex guy and ask him some questions. He finally showed up, and I signed for the package. If they make me sign for a $39 smart cover, then surely they would make me sign for a $599 iPad. I told him the story so far and he said that they have three guys, and that one of the others must have delivered the package. He suggested I call Fedex, so I did.

Nothing they said made sense. They showed the same thing I saw, delivered and signed for… by K Seraphin? My name starts with an A, and I have an illegible signature. I began to suspect the worst, that someone ripped off my iPad. They told me they would initiate a trace, but I wouldn’t hear anything until Monday. This bothered me, but what else could I do? I could celebrate the Equinox and watch the Lord of the Rings! Before the day ended though I did call Apple, who told me to wait to hear from Fedex, and if I could not get the package they would send me a replacement or a refund. They handled the whole thing very professionally. Once again Apple came through. Now I had a cover but no iPad.

I spent the weekend listening to some Tolkien material and taking care of any loose ends so I could relax for a few days. On Sunday the 20th I began my celebration at 07:20 PM eastern time. I enjoyed the movies but wondered what I’d hear on Monday. Monday came and I heard that they would have the delivery guy go back to exactly where he dropped it off and try to retrieve it, and that I would hear them on Tuesday. I didn’t know what else to do, so thanked them and continued watching the movies, contemplating the theme of uncertainty. The movies have less uncertainty than the books, since the movie starts with the backstory. In the books the reader only learns this information at the Council of Elrond, midway through the first book.

Tuesday came. Interestingly, this correlated with 1 Ahau in the Mayan calendar, the sacred day of Venus. I put on disc one of the Fellowship of the Ring and waited. Fedex called as the Council of Elrond gathered. The lady told me that they contacted the delivery man, and he felt absolutely confident that he dropped the package off. I told her I felt absolutely confident that he didn’t, and that I didn’t sign for it, and what’s this? You have a signature release that I didn’t agree to either? The more she talked, the less things made sense. The less things made sense, the angrier I became. I stepped outside to make sure I hadn’t gone absolutely insane and missed the package, but of course found nothing. She just sat there, as dumb and silent as a paperweight, and told me to contact Apple. I felt disgusted and thanked her. I hung up right as Frodo accepted his quest.

By this time five days had passed and I had to consider the possibility of theft. I did mention it on Twitter. Could someone have ripped it off? Did someone stalk me down and wait outside my house to intercept the delivery guy and forge my signature to rip off my iPad? It seemed too complicated. It would make more sense for a criminal to just rip off a package from Apple. And what of the signature? And what of the release that I didn’t agree to? Did this iPad stealing ring even reach into Fedex? They could collaborate with a Fedex worker with access to that information to alter computer records to make off with packages. I cursed all the god damn iPad spammers on Twitter, offering their free iPad 2’s that likely fell off the back of a delivery truck just like Mine. Curse them! Destroyers and usurpers! But what of the delivery guy who felt confident he delivered it? Did they get him in on it too? Who do you even mean by They? The Russians?

I talked the situation over with my family, and decided to file a police report. I had never done this before. I called the local police, and a guy took down my information in a matter of fact way. He didn’t seem too alarmed, but agreed that at the least Fedex did not follow proper procedure. Something clearly had gone wrong. He gave me the report number and also suggested I talk to Apple. All roads seemed to lead there anyway, so I called them back. I told them that I had heard from Fedex, who told me nothing and to call Apple. Apple understood, and told me they would launch an investigation within twenty-four hours. They also deducted the price of the smart cover for the inconvenience. How thoughtful. I decided to try to enjoy the rest of the movie.

I put on Disc two of the Fellowship of the Ring. The fellowship soon met Galadriel, the Lady of Light. Suddenly, my doorbell rang. I had a strange feeling. Would it really happen? Would I get my iPad 2 while celebrating the Equinox as well as 1 Ahau in the Mayan calendar, the sacred day of Venus, and right at the moment when the fellowship receives gifts from the Lady of Light?

A woman stood on my porch. “Hello. I have this package for you.” I could hardly believe it. “They delivered it to the house two doors down. I don’t know why people do this, but instead of just bringing it to you, they called us. When we went to retrieve it the first time, they weren’t home, and they finally called back again today and I just got it. It’s been sitting there since…. I don’t know when.” “Since Thursday.” I said elatedly. I felt awestruck. I signed for the package myself for real with my wacky signature and gratefully accepted it. I thanked this wonderful manifestation of Goddess profusely. She had done it. She had come through. After all my fears, it came back to the SNAFU principle as it usually does. Situation Normal: All Fucked Up. Hobbits have such a sense of family, but I can’t even get someone two doors down to bring a blind neighbor a package.

I brought the package inside as the movie played. “My gift to you, Legolas, is a bow of the Galadhrim, worthy of the skill of our woodland kin. (To MERRY and PIPPIN) These are the daggers of Noldorin. They have already seen service in war. Do not fear, young Peregrin Took. You will find your courage.” I got out my pocketknife. “And for you, Samwise Gamgee, Elven rope made of hithlain.” “Thank you, my lady. Have you run out of those nice shiny daggers?” I battled with the pocketknife to get a blade to open the package, then decided to resort to scissors. “And what gift would a dwarf ask of the Elves?” I began opening the box. “Nothing. Except to look upon the lady of the Galadhrim one last time. For she is more fair than all the jewels beneath the earth.” I got it open and started extracting the box containing the iPad. “Actually… there was one thing.. er.. no, no I couldn’t. It’s quite impossible. Stupid to ask.” “I removed the box and cast aside the packing materials. “I have nothing greater to give than the gift you already bear.” I started opening the cellophane. “You have your own choice to make, Aragorn. To rise above the height of all your fathers since the days of Elendil, or to fall into darkness with all that is left of your kin. Nam·riΔ

Finally, at long last, I actually held the iPad 2 in my hands. “Farewell, Frodo Baggins. I give you the light of Earendil, our most beloved star.” “May it be a light for you in dark places, where all other lights go out.” I felt absolutely overcome by the beauty of the synchronicity, not to mention the beauty of the object I now held in my curious hands. I knew that I held a blessed item. It is precious to me.

Epilogue: I hooked it up to my iMac. iTunes automagically imported my settings from my old iPad, and the brand new iPad 2 came up talking immediately. Wonderful beautiful Apple! I called off the police investigation and told Apple as well. Everything worked out. It took a whole article just to tell the story of how I got it. Now I have to write my review of the actual device. By the way, I think I will give my iPad 1 to my Mom. iPads make perfect Mom devices.

Let there be Light Detectors

March 02, 2011

I feel glad to report that we can now add light probes to the list of blind technology now made obsolete by the iPhone. Recently, I received an email from a blind user who worked with Everywhere Technologies to create the Light Detector app. It costs a dollar and behaves as advertised.

The app works very simply. It produces a constantly wavering tone. A higher tone means a more intense light source. It doesn’t even have any controls. Just start it and enjoy. Press the home button to end. Perfect.

Unlike the Color Identifier app which I previously demonstrated, this app measures the intensity of the light as opposed to its color. Often, this will tell you all you need to know. For example, when I used Earthlink, which I recently learned still exists, we had a little problem. My DSL went out as it would from time to time. Usually it didn’t matter, but once in a great while I would have to call in a ticket to get it resolved. At first this didn’t pose a problem, I would explain that I couldn’t tell them about the lights on the modem and they would understand and fill out the ticket and I would get my net back. Then one day this happened and I called in only to find that they had outsourced their tech support. I couldn’t believe it. I kept trying to explain to some guy in Goddess knows where that I could not see the lights on the modem. “That’s what blind means. I can’t see the lights.” I kept saying, but to no avail. Of course it happened when the rest of my family went on a vacation and I couldn’t summon a sighted person to immediately come and tell them about the stupid lights on the stupid modem. As a result I didn’t have my DSL for a week and that ended our relationship. I wish I would have had this app then.

It seems interesting to me that this app gives a different way to perceive light than the Color Identifier app. Some might wonder why one would just want to know the intensity, when you could know the color. The two things make up two properties of light. Color Identifier will pick up the color of objects, of light reflected off objects, and of light sources. The Light Detector app just picks up the intensity of a light source. It intrigues me to perceive vision in these two different modalities. Once again, technology makes it possible.

I feel inspired that the iPhone continues to make other specialized technology mainstream and obsolete. I feel inspired that a blind user worked with developers to make this wonderful app. As a programmer, I feel inspired by the app’s minimalist design. You never know what wonderful surprises life will bring next. Let there be light, and let there be light detectors. You can hear an audio demonstration here.

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